As wine connoisseurship evolves, I look toward developing ways to express the aspects of wine I love the most. I recognize that wine is a product of nature and science; my goal is as natural as can be: to help make the connection between joy of taste and the bountiful pleasures of life.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The farther you go,..the less you know

On the eve of our last night in Sonoma a rather unexpected convergence took place. After two days of clock defined tours, tastings and gastronomic lenience we rolled up to the Hawkes tasting room. Located in the flats of Alexander Valley not far from Healdsburg, the modest roadside structure felt as if it took the place of an old western saloon or auto service station. The narrow parking lot separated the one room tasting gallery from a typical “old school”, original Sonoma County farmhouse. Rickety and somewhat disjointed, the windows and sills of the house were filled with potted succulents, kids toys, and everything in between. The yard was also bejeweled with a variety of tools that looked as if the various gardening projects once started had suddenly stopped in their tracks. Raised beds full of leggy herbs, charcoal grills and an overwhelming sense of calm and genuine unassuming comfort was made obvious just from the exterior.

We approached the steps of the home to find Jake bouncing about with his typical high toned self. The wood floors of the kitchen, painted with a fire engine red lacquer reminded me of Mexico. I felt instantly like I wanted to be a part of this place. I wanted to take my shoes off, and drink some coffee, maybe even plop down in a rocking chair, drink some really strong black coffee and read an old fairy tale.

The group piled back into our chariot (Toyota sienna with automatic dual sliding doors) and I alone joined Jake, riding shotgun in his flat bed farm truck. We grabbed some glassware, a couple bottles of chardonnay and a 2 quart silver mixing bowl filled with hand turned baby artichoke hearts, salted and oiled with EVOO. While clearly not the ideal pairing for chardonnay or any wine for that matter, the fact that Jake had grown them and prepared them totally trumped the classically avoided combo.

We headed through one of his family vineyards in the flats just behind the tasting room. While most of the Hawkes family acreage lies in the Chalk Hill AVA,this block or two spanned the basin of the valley and gently upward toward the belly of the ridge. We arrived at the back side of the vineyard, looking across the breadth of the valley from our perch; Jake had built a nice wooden deck and some chairs in a perfectly shaded grove of oaks. As the evening breeze gathered itself into noticeable pockets of pillowy soft freshness, we gazed across the valley and discussed the Hawkes vision, girls, polarized overly cerebral winemakers, gasoline prices, wine flaws and agriculture in the early days of the valley.

40 or so minutes and 2 bottles later, we piled back into the cars and headed to dinner. Jakes parents, ( both quite active in the family business) had graciously signed on to prepare our dinner at their home. While I had no idea what to expect, my guess, steeped in the most righteous optimism didn’t even approach the level what made up the next three hours.

We headed back across the valley and into the On the way to the dinner Jake took us on a mini adventure through the property and on up to the high point of their highest elevation vineyard. We walked from our cars up a steep embankment 40 or so degrees, across shale, compressed chalk and glistening nuggets of shiny back obsidian. The views were magical from the apex of the hill. If you’ve not had the opportunity to visit this growing area, it is without a doubt one of the most topographically endowed in all of California wine country. Dramatic slopes, one after another, some vineyards terraced, some not , dappled with that classic Sonoma scrubb and drainages clearly defined by dense groves of trees and tall grasses. Truly amazing!

After a brief stop and a few photos, we speedily drove to meet mom and dad. Approaching the home, I could smell the bbq char,…we crossed the river on an old wooden bridge, and after a quarter mile or so , we arrived at the house. Perfectly nestled in a grove of redwoods the house and the grounds felt again, …like a fairy tale. Greeted by Jakes wife & 2 month old daughter in the yard, the combination of the outbuildings, the gardens that looked like they had been tended for a century and the cast of the evening light, I stuttered in sheer admiration. Enormous heirloom rose bushes, foxglove, fruit trees and a nearly “feed me Seymour” sized Wisteria vine that had all but taken over the pergola above the patio. This place was really special. Really, really, really special.

We all marched up the stairs to the patio that overlooked the gardens surrounding the house. The area was set with a number of the family wines in a number of vintages.
Jakes dad did the flank steak, perfectly marinated and grilled with just the right amount of char. Mom did the corn pudding which as many time as ive had something like that, Id never had one that was so rich with the flavor of masa. Each bit, fluffy as a soufflĂ© with the occasional pop and juicy rush from a fresh kernel. Black beans in an iron crock, and crispy, limey cole slaw with fresh celery and maybe some apple. So, there it is, sun setting, candles flickering, 33 LP’s playing slithery jazz standards, glassware shimmering, wafting aromas of jasmine and roses, a crying baby, Wisteria dangling its tentacles overhead, steak, corn, beans, slaw, limes, fresh red onion, hot sauce, great wines and good friends. Holey smokes. Can you say lifelong memory? Needless to say, I fell in love with the place and the people.

We finished our epic visit with the Hawkes family after a moonlit walk through the vineyards adjacent to the house. The air had cooled and the enclosed portion of the vineyard made for perfect stargazing. Like being in the Desert or on a boat far out in the ocean, the night was a brilliant as one could be.

Returning to the porch for a final gastro finale, freshly made bourbon and buttermilk ice-cream and last years peaches in a ceramic bowl. Sheeesh! Its just kept coming. Unreal. Then,..just as we thought it couldn’t get any better, Jake declared his homage to the south and firmly planted a “handle” of Evan Williams in the center of the table. Whisky anyone? Yeah,…that’s what I said….no joke people. The wines are all delicious I encourage you all to seek them out ! Here in Atlanta, they are distributed by Empire. Before mid July, you’ll be able to find them at Ecco and both South City Kitchen locations.

So, what to make of all this, hmmmm…well, I can say a few things for certain, firstly, joy can be found everywhere, secondly, ..the more you accept that you don’t know anything, the better off you’ll be, and lastly, (this sort of goes along the first two), the farther you go the less you know.

No comments: